As I discussed in a previous post, body image plus disability can be tough. You most likely have all the normal body image, insecurities etc that the average person does but the disability can give you some fun extras… Sitting in a wheelchair makes you look fatter than you might be. It can result in clothes sitting strangely on you. If you dare to wear shorts with your wheelchair, you risk appearing like you’ve forgotten to put anything on the bottom half of you. You might not be up to putting on particular clothes, your feet may reject the shoes you love, you might be very attached to your hair straighteners but find one day you can’t pick them up… All fun extras…
I am by far not an expert on loving your body. This post is mostly for me really… a way to help me think about different ways I can treat my body better and try and build a loving relationship with it.
In the past, one of the ways I’ve managed to get out of disordered eating habits and treat my body better was by thinking about all the awesome things my body could do. Yes my legs might not look the way I want but hell they’re bloody brilliant at getting me places. My body might not look perfect but I can lift this heavy rucksack and take myself off camping. You get the picture.
This time round things have been much harder. My body does not do what I want and doesn’t do what other people’s bodies can. So really what’s the point…
Enter my list of things you can do to build a more positive relationship with the body which may very well cause you problems.
- try and remember your body is you, you are your body, you are not fighting each other, you work better if you’re both on the same side. there are enough things to battle with in this world, especially if you have a disability, try not to enter into war with yourself on top of that
- nourishment… food is great for your body, it helps it to heal and repair and recover and if you have a condition like eds then your body is probably in need of a lot of food because it’s probably always repairing something… nourishment works best if it’s balanced. chocolate counts as much as grapes. I was particularly reminded of this when my heavy and far too frequent periods left me feeling utterly depleted. I essentially just ate spinach in various forms for a week and whilst it’s not a magic cure, I did feel better. And I was approaching my food with the mindset that it was going to be good for my iron levels. This helped me to feel much more positive about eating.
- buy nice products if you can. I have a million allergies so I’m very limited on what I can use anyway. My shampoo has to either be nasty tar medicated stuff which smells bad or the beautifully gorgeous, I want to eat it, “I love juicy” from lush. One is free, the other is expensive but one reminds me I’m ill and the other makes me feel like I’m on holiday. Plus, lush shampoo and their shower gels keep going forever. Seriously, I know I only wash my hair once a week but we’ve barely made a dent in the amount of shampoo I have since I moved in march.
- use the nice products you own. I used to keep my lush shampoo for special occasions but as I got iller, my world got smaller and special occasions got fewer. If having fantastic smelling hair makes me feel a bit better when I’m stuck in bed then I’m doing it.
- think about what surrounds you. Is your home filled with nice things, happy memories, blankets and fairy lights or is it just lots of medical looking equipment?
my flat has lots of little details; crystals, candles, fairy lights, lots of photos and pictures which make me feel good
- think about who surrounds you as well. What messages are they sending out? If it’s all doom and gloom and oh my god I look so shit today, think about how that makes you feel. There will always be people in your life who bring you down that you can’t get rid of but think about how you can get more positive, body positive people into your world. In my case, this takes the form of a carefully curated online world. I follow people on twitter, blogs etc which are about embracing who you are, about loving yourself, about accepting your body. These people act as role models, bringers of positive quotes and cute cat pictures. It may sound like a little thing but we are constantly bombarded with messages about what we should look like and we don’t have to accept them in our homes and online worlds. You can’t avoid them all but if you get 100 body shaming messages a day and manage to get 5 body positive ones then you’re going to be less affected by the 100. This feels waffly, I hope I’m getting my point across.
- notes to yourself. If it works for you, leave yourself post-its with nice quotes, love notes to yourself etc around the place. A little message by your mirror telling you how beautiful your eyes are might just distract you from the body hating talk that you normally get in front of the mirror.
- reduce the number of mirrors if they bother you BUT don’t avoid them, that will make your relationship with them worse. I go days without seeing myself. I have a mirror in my bedroom which is placed so that I never look in it (it’s decorative), I have a small one on my bathroom cupboard and a full length mirror in my spare bedroom which is normally obstructed by the clothes airer.
- personalise your aids; my crutches are purple, my wheelchair is purple, i’m currently looking for a much nicer wheelchair bag… lots of people use coloured duck tape to make their walkers etc more personal. Going out with a patterned walking stick that you’ve chosen feels much more empowering than the lovely medical grey/beige that is so frequently used. I’ve mentioned before that I cover my wrist splints with arm warmers, partly so the velcro doesn’t destroy everything but also cos they are more me than the lovely medical beige of the splints…
me early 2015 in Cambodia: my splints are covered in purple covers and my purple-y crutches
- consider how you talk about and think about your body, what language are you using? For a long time when I was in pain, “I hate my body” would be running through my head. In those words. It wasn’t just a feeling, it was the actual phrase. And if that’s running through your head over and over again it becomes a reflex and an unchallenged idea. I have mostly managed to stop it from happening automatically, just through a process of noticing and challenging myself. When I don’t stop it, I do consciously acknowledge and remind myself I don’t actually hate my body. When I talk to other people I have a nasty habit of using the words broken, stupid, crappy when talking about my body. Again, this normalises the idea that my body isn’t good and it is something I am trying to challenge and reduce.
- what does your body so or let you do? It’s very easy to focus on what your body can’t do (and that’s an important part of accepting your disability etc) but we don’t very often think about what our bodies can do. By which I don’t mean the “active” things like running, jumping etc which comes up so often in body positive things – all great, but focusing heavily on that means we forget about the other things. So right now, my body, despite all it’s many problems, is letting me sit up and come up with ideas and read other people’s ideas and compile them into a post. My body protects my brain which I really value and the fat on my stomach protects my organs. Without my body I couldn’t read, write, do tarot, do art, express myself, see my friends… These aren’t what people normally think of when asked what their body does in the context of body positivity but they are all amazing things. And I’m big on celebrating the little things.
- do things which make you feel good and make you feel empowered. This will vary and doesn’t have to be particularly related to your body. Yoga might be it for you, for me it might be writing or doing a tarot reading. Or a small act of kindness or activism. The more empowered you feel, the better your body image.
- Related to this, i have five things I need to do each week to keep me mentally and physically balanced and if I don’t then my feelings about my body are one of the things which take a nose dive; something restful, something outside, something creative, something intellectual and something which lets me check in with my emotions.
- it’s ok to not like your body from time to time. When you’re in agony cos your rib has slipped out of place, it’s ok to be pissed with your body. In the same way that if your partner forgets to take out the bins, you can be pissed, but be pissed at the incident not the body.
- it’s ok if it’s not easy to love your body. Loving your body when your body is causing you pain is complicated. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You really don’t need to add that into the mix! Be kind to yourself.